Friday, August 26, 2016

Free Shipping Fridays: A Bouquet of Encouragement

Dear Readers,

I'm shelling out the big bucks this week, because having flowers delivered to your door ain't cheap. But here, for your reading enjoyment, is a mixed bouquet of all the random encouraging websites I've come across over the past couple of weeks. Many of them have been languishing as an open window in my internet browser, so I apologize if they're a bit wilted. Hopefully, they will still brighten your day.


If I had to answer some cheesy ice-breaker question if my friend Maggie "were a flower, which flower would she be?" I'd have to say a Southwestern cactus flower. Hot pink, super pretty, but with enough spines to take care of business:

http://bowling-maggie.blogspot.com/2016/08/a-blessing-for-my-teenage-daughters.html?m=1


My friend Pam would definitely be one of the first daffodils coming up at the beginning of a Canadian spring (so, you know, in June). Sweet smelling, dainty looking, but not even weak because she's thriving amidst all that snow:

http://www.sundaywomen.com/2016/05/what-i-have-learned-serving-church.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+SundayWomen+(Sunday+Women)&m=1


I'm running out of clever (read: silly) flower analogies here. I just love this story about some CFA folks understanding the true meaning of the Sabbath, and loving the way Jesus loved. Ummm, so roses maybe? Rainbow colored ones? (SOMEONE PLEASE STOP ME I'M OUT OF CONTROL)

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/06/14/chick-fil-a-opens-on-sunday-to-feed-orlando-blood-donors/85868494/


Okay, Imma bring things back from over-pollinated syrupy-sweet land with this article. But if I had to  pick a flower to represent Ruth Haley Barton, one of my favorite authors, I'd have to say an iris. Mostly because they are one of my favorite flowers, but also because they're deep and classy (WHY WON'T SOMEONE STOP ME ALREADY):

http://www.transformingcenter.org/2016/07/prayer-lament-breathe/


And here's an actual bouquet, of one of my favorite flowers ever (delphinium) because why not:

http://flowersbygracelewicki.com/viewitem.php?productid=281








Monday, August 08, 2016

To a Sweet Baby Girl

















Dear Sadie Margaret,

I'm angry right now. Not at you, little one. At life, and circumstances, and death, and--if I'm honest--at God. Because this isn't supposed to be how it turns out. You're supposed to go home to your brothers and sister. You're supposed to keep growing big and strong, and we're supposed to get to keep you in the church nursery, and take vows along with the entire church family at your baptism. To say that we will help your family as they guide, love, and even discipline you a little. We're supposed to get to watch you grow into toddlerhood, commiserate with your Mama and Daddy at how fast time is flying by. There are supposed to be funny stories to be heard over dinner and proud moments to celebrate together, like with your siblings and our kiddos.

But there aren't, and maybe there won't be, and I'm just angry. I know that if you leave us, you'll be going where there's no more pain. I know you'll get to, as your Mama said, "look at Jesus face-to-face with those big, brown eyes." I know you'll look up at our heavenly father, and say, "Daddy, I want a pony." And he'll say, "Here, sweetheart. Have five ponies."

And I know that it's better to be with Jesus, and that I'm terribly selfish to want you to stay, and that the Holy Spirit is convicting me even now. But I am just so angry, and sad, and helpless. And I think that God agrees that death and pain are something to be angry about. And I think that someday that all of us who love you will get to a point where we aren't so angry at God anymore, but I'm sure not there right now.

I'm angry for your family. I'm angry for the thousands of people around the world who have been praying for you and cheering you on. I'm angry for all the little girls and boys who have been praying their sweet, earnest prayers: "Dear God, please help Sadie Margaret get better. Please heal her."

And I'm trying to focus on that ultimate healing that all God's children are ultimately headed toward. I'm trying to rejoice that maybe you'll never really know sin or depression or even anger. That what fear and pain your little body and soul have gone through will be replaced with a peace and joy and life that I can't even really imagine.

But did I mention that I'm so angry?

Perhaps focusing on being grateful for you will help. And I am so very grateful. How many saints have been driven to their knees in prayer over these past months? How many of us have been strengthened by seeing God's incredible sustaining of your family? How many people, that we may never even know in this life, has the Holy Spirit spoken to while they watch your Mama and Daddy celebrate what a little fighter you are?

Your Daddy shared a sweet thought: that even if you leave us soon--someday, how long the line will be in heaven to see you. So many of us, even as we joyously greet our own lost children and other loved ones, will run to see you and join you in basking in the light of the glory of our God on his throne! And we'll say, "Sadie Margaret--you're healed!" And you'll say, "Of course, dear one. Welcome home."

Striving to choose gratitude,
a Loving Aunty

Monday, August 01, 2016

To Those Who Want to Do More


Dear Friends,

I've been asked to compile a series of tweets I recently did about how a majority culture person can, once they've started to feel some of the pain of minority folks' stories, move past inevitable shame into making a difference. Because my heart breaks for my friends who have started to see their own racism and now feel so helpless, like their majority status keeps them continually complicit in injustices, and that they can't help but be oppressors. I do not believe that is so. Quite the opposite. I believe that majority culture folks can be powerful advocates for the Other, leveraging their privilege for the good of others, to the glory of God and the growth of the Kingdom.

When Jesus says, "to whom much is given, of him much will be required," he didn't mean that privileged people will be required to feel much shame and paralyzing guilt. That's not the gospel. The gospel is repenting of sins--personal, corporate, cultural--and then acting on those convictions, following the Holy Spirit in the work he is doing in people's lives and the systems of the world. Shame just wraps us up in ourselves and satan's schemes.

So let me first off all say, thank you, King Jesus. None of us, without common grace, without the touch of the Holy Spirit on sinful minds, realize any of our sins and wrong attitudes, much less do anything to change them. This is Jesus' work. That truth is simultaneously a huge challenge, because God is so very perfect and holy, and also a huge relief. Because dredging change up in ourselves is not what the Holy Spirit is about. He's about showing himself mighty in the feeble work of his children.

Second, let me make it clear that I, too, am racist. I have blogged about this before. I was raised by a black man, but I still find myself shying away from unfamiliar black men in most circumstances. I am working on this. The Holy Spirit is working on this in me. I am seeking to have the lies of the media/culture be replaced by the truths of God. I am repenting and actively trying to change the way I look at others. I am not writing this post (nor was I writing those tweets) to people who aren't interested in racial reconciliation. This isn't supposed to be a post guilting you into confessing racism and changing everything. It's supposed to be a post to encourage already like-minded folks who desire racial reconciliation but don't know where to start. So if those tweets or this post grieve you, I apologize, and hope you can bear with me.

Thirdly, there is something important to being willing to sit in feelings of shame and helplessness. That is actually part of the journey in identifying with the minority. "Triumphalism" of which the majority culture church is often guilty means wanting to move past the bad things without lingering. To merely slap a "Come Lord Jesus" on things as a band-aid, as if we're not in the here-and-not-yet, as if God himself doesn't weep and mourn and lament and understand what it means to be truly ashamed and helpless. Cry out "How Long, O Lord?" like the Psalmists did. Please don't jump past the grief, the wrestling, the muck and mire of the weight of what sinful people can do to each other because of what we think about each other. I know it sounds terrifying, but trust that if God leads you in sinking down into the grief, he will meet you at the bottom, where he has condescended to dwell with us helpless creatures.

Having said that, finally, let me say that it is true that we who believe in Jesus do not weep as those without hope. We know Jesus will make all things right someday. We know he's at work even now. And the crazy, absurd miracle is that we get to be part of that. We get to fight to see the imago dei in each person as we have our eyes recalibrated to see as Jesus sees. We get to do the good work of reconciliation between humans because God has done the great work of reconciliation between humanity and himself.

So here are some ideas to move past shame. Some ideas for little next steps that just might a big difference. And please, have grace for yourself, friends. You will mess up. We all do. You will say awkward things and hurt people. I think it's better to do that in good faith, and to learn, and grow, then to say nothing at all. Find friends who can help you understand. Other bridge builders. Minorities who aren't so exhausted just by existing in a majority culture that they can't explain things kindly and patiently (and over and over again). Let humility and grace guide you, not thinking about what you think is "right" or about your "rights." Believe that God is big enough to guard the truth in your heart. Remember that it's not about our rights, it's about the rights that Jesus laid down for us, so that we could be made right with him and each other. We're all in need of repentance and we're all in need of renewal. Praise God that he's willing to help us walk through both.

Don't traffic in stereotypes, but you can find good ones (or generalizations about what is hurtful/helpful) and learn more about where they come from. Find people who defy those stereotypes from all walks of life, and learn more about their stories. And you can also apply this to Native Americans, to women, to whatever minority it is that God is drawing you toward.

So here are the tweets, with a little more explanation in parenthesis. Some of the explanations are long. Yeah, there's a reason that tweets are limited to 140 characters...


Idea to move past shame: say thanks to black folks in service professions, w/ respect like for white servers. See sacrifice & imago dei.
(Sometimes we have to work harder to be nice to people who aren't like us. It's a fact of life. If you aren't kind to any folks who bring your food, take your trash, and watch your kids, then that's another discussion!)


Idea to move past shame: listen to black musicians-not w/cultural appropriation but w/joy, as w/ white musicians. See gifts & imago dei.

(I was raised on Motown. It's hard not to appreciate and understand some of the issues that a culture experiences when you're listening to music being made by folks in that culture.)


Idea to move past shame: admire black sisters--fab. hair texture (DON'T PET), leadership, etc. as w/ white women. See beauty & imago dei.

(But seriously. DO. NOT. PET.)


Idea to move past shame: sit next to a black person in a drs' waiting room. Don't assume he/she wants to mug you. See needs & imago dei.

(Okay. This one caused some controversy on FB. Yes, I truly apologize for the snark. Perhaps what would have been better would have been to say, "Prove that you don't assume he/she wants to mug you. Break stereotypes on both sides.")


Idea to move past shame: cheer black folks & don't act surprised at successes--celebrate like w/ white folks. See contributions & imago dei.

(It's the "don't act surprised" that keeps this from becoming a microaggression--from becoming awkward and hurtful. What's surprising is when a person of color defeats all kinda crazy odds to get the recognition that his or her accomplishments deserve. But it is not surprising that a POC is actually smart, or talented in something other than sports, or is articulate, or funny, or hardworking. That's God's work in each of us, and we should be looking for it in others.)


Idea to move past shame: buy black art. Explore diff. textures, colors, styles. Display like you would white art. See beauty & imago dei.

(Again, not as cultural appropriation, but as fair representation. There are some amazing black artists out there, who just don't get as much exposure/don't have as great a network as do their majority culture peers.)


Idea to move past shame: find black leaders to place yourself under. Respect/serve as you would white leaders. See strength & imago dei.

(Anybody remember the #DearWhitePastor hashtag from awhile back? POC sharing what they wish white head pastors would know/do? This was my response. Don't just hire a token black person on your staff. Find a way to make them a leader. Maybe even the new head pastor...)


Idea to move past shame: give black dolls/action figures/books to your kids. Play w/ as you would white toys. See reality & imago dei.

(I was the only kid in small-town New Mexico with an Orange Blossom doll [Strawberry Shortcake's black sidekick]. But it was important that my toys reflected reality--that not everyone is white. What with characters like Doc McStuffins, Tiana [The Frog Prince], and Keena Ford [books], along with a spate of new black superheroes, you don't even have to settle for the sidekick anymore.)


Idea to move past shame: invite black friends to meal, calmly & winsomely. Welcome as you would white friends. See uniqueness & imago dei.

(I said "calmly and winsomely" because there is nothing a minority loves more than being fawned over and lovingly harassed by well-meaning people who are SO FLIPPING EXCITED TO SEE A MINORITY THAT THEY CAN BE FRIENDS WITH and maybe also one of the first minorities they've seen in awhile. So don't make a big deal out of it. See their unique cultural needs, but perhaps more importantly, their unique personal needs. Try to know that specific person and how he or she communicates, what he or she feels welcomed by, etc. Which is different for different people, not even just different types of people. And if you got weird and overly clingy, apologize, and keep trying. I know that's a lot to ask, but it's also a lot to ask of someone else to come with you for a meal when you're obviously crazy. :) I think we're all just hoping we are each other's kind of crazy, and that true, deep friendship can come out of that.)


Idea to move past shame: support black campus ministers. Ask about ministry as you would white campus minister. See passion & imago dei.

(Or black non-profits, if that's more your speed. I'm speaking to a mostly Christian audience here, but the point is to get excited about what a person of color is doing, to find out what they are passionate about and hop on board.)


Idea to move past shame: tell black girl she's beautiful & mean it. Celebrate her value as you would white girl. See mind & imago dei.

(Black girls need to hear they are beautiful, inside and out. Because I'm not even tryna deny that they get fed a lot of lies both from the majority and minority cultures--especially hardcore rap. So would you tell a white girl she looked lovely in a similar situation? Then tell that mocha beauty, too. Would you praise a white girl for her grades? Then please do say something to a sista. Would you complement white parents about the way their daughter acted? Then don't be weird about it, but let the black family know, too.)


Idea to move past shame: sit next to black colleagues; showcase ideas. Partner with as you would white colleagues. See talents & imago dei.

(It really is good stewardship when you, as a majority culture person, have the listening ear of colleagues and can point out other coworkers who might get lost in the shuffle. It really is a work of the Holy Spirit to foster humility for us to be able to intentionally partner with folks who may not get the attention or resources we might have. Don't feel guilty that you got that promotion. Use it to raise up other leaders. Don't feel ashamed that you had better educational opportunities growing up. Utilize your higher income to make a difference in a child's life. Grieve the uneven playing field, repent if you weren't aware it existed, and then do something about it.)


Idea to move past shame: hold door for elderly black folks. Defer as you would for white elderly folks. See wisdom & imago dei.

(I know this is partly cultural, and may seem like a no-brainer, but I have two thoughts: 1) I truly believe we are programmed by society to not see those we value less. So we don't pay attention to the elderly like we should, and we don't respect folks with dark skin like they deserve. 2) It's triply-sad when you factor in that in the South, at least, many elderly black men with grey hair are old enough to have been called "boy" by white children and many elderly black women with grey hair remember a time when the rape of a black woman was rather standard and overlooked. So go out of your way, friends. Show a fellow human being some kindness, where a little will go an especially long way.)


Idea to move past shame: appreciate black history makers. Study as you would white history makers. See valuable contributions & imago dei.

(Our history books are incredibly biased, which is a shame not only for race relations, but just for amazing stories about amazing people which don't get told in the majority culture. Take advantage of Black History Month or new books which feature POC history-makers. Dive in.)


Idea to move past shame: make eye contact with young black man, nod/say hi. Engage as you would young white man. See dreams & imago dei.
(I know this is hard. But chances are, anyone you meet around town is not a "thug," or if they are, they don't really care what you're up to. If it's a majority culture public area in the middle of the day, you're probably safe. Try to remember that they are just tryna get where they're going, too. And you breaking that stereotype--proving you're not afraid or disdainful--could mean a lot to that young black man. Your nod/hello could actually speak to the fact that you believe his life matters. If nothing else, being polite is a reasonable thing to do.)


Idea to move past shame: read black poetry with an open mind. Engage as you would white poetry. See heart cries & imago dei of authors.

(Especially if art isn't your thing, poetry---and this includes rap lyrics--can really open your eyes to another person's perspective. Read this poem. Try some Lecrae lyrics. My go-to is Langston Hughes, every time. Maya Angelou, all day long.)


Idea to move past shame: see little black boy playing & don't shy away in fear. Engage as you would little white boy. See joy & imago dei.
(The little boy in the "Dinosaurs in the Hood" poem above? The one playing with plastic dinosaurs and dreaming big dreams? He exists. And his life matters because he was made in the image of God. And so he is beautiful, even though he may seem older than he really is, or more aggressive because of our cultural lenses. I want to really see him, and to see him thrive.) 

And an idea to move past shame, which I didn't tweet before but probably should have, is to see your own imago dei, and rejoice in how every little move towards Jesus lets your light shine through a little more clearly. Be kind to yourself as you're trying to be kind to others. See your heart transformed by Jesus, the ultimate imager of God.

Moving past shame,
A Fellow Image-Bearer.


Friday, July 15, 2016

To Those Who are Bruised

NOTE: I've updated this to include Officer Jackson. I hate that. I hate that our world is so broken. Any loss of life, of any kind, any where, is not how it should be. Come, Lord Jesus. We need you desperately.


Dear Black and Blue Lives,

Let me emphasize that I see the significance of the word play there. As a unique segment of the population, black police officers are caught in the middle--in the cross-fire, if you will. You are black and blue, bruised and beaten. You are exhausted, both by your actual police work and with all the social implications surrounding that work.

I want to see you, faithful officers. I want to see, and respect, and honor you and your families. I want to lament with you, and try to understand the difficult space you inhabit as you are all-too-often forced to choose whose side you are on. I want to be on your side--because you are made in the image of God--even when I may disagree with your social media statements or be confused by your actions. I want you to know that I'm grateful. That I want to learn more about the dangers you face and the sacrifices you make.

To the "Salty Dad/Sharp young Black Officer" whose thoughts I read on Facebook, I want to say thank you for your service, and for sharing. I agree that we are in a "sad state of affairs" as humans. Your own experience with the violence in your childhood showcases that. I am so sorry that you had to grow up surrounded by fear. I am so sorry that you have had to see so many young black men die at the hands of other young black men in your work as a police officer. I cannot imagine what it is like to so vividly know the "unforgettable smell of deoxygenated dark red blood in the air" and to feel so helpless and weary. I wish more people on both sides would read your post and hear how "heartbreak weighs [you] down, rage flows through [your] veins, and tears fill [your] eyes." I am not going to argue about the statistics you've presented, because the irony is that the supposedly indisputable facts presented on all sides don't really change anything. The facts I want to take in are that you are tired, and scared, and unappreciated, and vilified by people from all positions. The facts that are, to me, indisputable, are that you risk your life daily and you feel like it's maybe all for nothing. I don't want to let the black-on-black crime narrative or the police brutality narrative drown out your story. It seems we disagree somewhat on what the problem is, and perhaps even moreso on what the solutions should be, but your Black and Blue Life Matters, no matter what anyone says, and no matter what mistakes you do or don't make, and I am grateful for you.

To Officer Liquori Tate, of Hattiesburg, MS, I want to say, thank you for your faithful and short-lived service. I mourn your death. I weep with your family at your loss. You paid the ultimate price, and there is no way to repay or even fully vindicate that, but you are remembered, by black lives and blue lives alike. Your life mattered. And not even because you fought hard to escape stereotypes and societal expectations of young black men. Not even because you were a good officer, described by fellow officers as having an "infectious joy", or because you were an upstanding citizen, or because you were a hero to your family and community. No--your Black and Blue Life Mattered (and still does) because you were made in the image of a holy God, and worthy of dignity and respect. A violent act took away your life, but it couldn't take away your value as a human being. I am grateful for you.

To Officer Montrell Jackson, of Baton Rouge, LA, I want to say, thank you for your willingness to serve, even when you felt like your city maybe didn't love you. Thank you for your ultimate sacrifice, which feels so pointless but must not be. We cannot let your death mean nothing. Your wife and baby boy cannot have lost you for nothing. Your sacrifice (and theirs) must be remembered. Your son will grow up without his father, but I pray, and hope, and cry out to the Lord that he will grow up in a city that loves him, values him, neither fears nor targets him. Your wife is now a single black mother, and I pray, and hope, and cry out to the Lord that she won't be judged or regarded with suspicion and contempt. Just as the legacy of the men and women of Mother Emmanuel who lost their lives ultimately ended up being the SC flag coming down, may your legacy be that change comes, and hearts are broken and healed anew, that a little more shalom comes on earth as it is in heaven. Your sister got the news while she was in church, and "didn't want to break down in church"--but perhaps that is the problem. We in the church don't allow for this pain--to weep, lament, and cry as the Psalmist and others did. We need to break down over your death, Officer Jackson, as well as the other officers, and Baton Rouge's citizens. We need to being willing to give everything--as you did--even if "everything" just looks like our comfort and our desire for easy solutions. Thank you for so bravely and graciously existing in the difficult middle ground. Your Black and Blue Life Mattered (and still does). I am grateful for you.

To Dallas Police Chief David Brown, I want to say thank you for your service and vulnerability. I cannot imagine the grief and shame you went through when your son's mental illness drove him to shoot both a police officer and a civilian. I can only imagine the frustration and despair you are feeling as all the work your department has done to decrease both crime and excessive force complaints was undermined by the heinous crime of a person who lost his value for all life. I may disagree that Black Lives Matter folks leaving the protest lines to join the police is a comprehensive solution, but your point is well-made that you are working hard to remove the need for protests. Your comment that you've "been black a long time, so [the bridge between police and black communities is] not much of a bridge" for you made me both laugh and sigh. What an exhausting place to be in--to be both and neither. To be constantly having to defend yourself as a black man, even as you have to defend yourself as a police officer. As a multi-ethnic woman, I have just a small idea of what that's like, and I'm sorry that you are caught in the middle and expected to always be a bridge-builder. I see you, sir, and I see your bravery, and determination, and heart. I don't want to let--I refuse to let--(necessary) discussions about gun-control and peaceful protests and mental illness completely blind me to seeing you, to saying that your Black and Blue Life Matters. I am grateful for you.

To Officer Nakia Jones, I want to say, thank you for your service and your passion. Thank you for being the Other three times over, a "double-minority," as a a black police woman. I hear your heart's cry, and I weep with you. I weep with you for the things you've experienced, and I rejoice for the barriers you've broken down. I hear your hurts. I love your delight in "wearing the blue" and I applaud your strong words calling for racist white officers to take that uniform off. And though I might say that it's not just white officers who are believing lies about the value of black lives, and thus we can't just remove all the racist white officers and expect everything to be fixed, I heard so much nuance in your speech. What a joy to hear you call both sides to task and ask for change from all communities involved. There are no simple answers, and as a working mom, you get that. I think of your children, and I hear them in the background, and I think of how much you sacrifice and juggle to be able to put on that uniform each day. And I am overwhelmed with your wisdom and strength. Your beautiful Black and Blue Life Matters. It matters to your family, and your community, and people like me that you'll probably never meet. I am grateful for you.

To bruised and battered Black and Blue lives all over the country (and world), I want to say, thank you. May God grant you peace, and safety, and a strong community in which to serve faithfully. May God heal the ways that lies may have crept into your own minds about the value of black lives and even your own lives. May God comfort you and your families in these uniquely heartbreaking times as well as in the daily exhaustion that comes with police work. I repent of the ways I've either forgotten about you or stereotyped you. Please forgive me for how I've bought into the us vs. them, black folks vs. police mentality. Thank you for standing in the gap. Thank you for your willingness to serve, to wrestle with complex issues, for your very lives. Wonderful, precious Black and Blue Lives that Matter because they matter to God.

With respect and gratitude,
A Fellow Citizen




Monday, June 27, 2016

To My Siblings in our Denomination

NOTE: Our denomination is theologically conservative. It is also culturally and politically conservative. It is complementarian, with a wide range of what that means for different people and churches. Part of why I am weary, of why this is so difficult for me, is that I am theologically conservative, but not culturally or politically so. I am a complementarian, valuing the overall leadership of men in the church, but also a "soft" complementarian, not thinking that women should be entirely absent or silent. It's a difficult middle ground.

I wish we could either have a new term, not having to use "soft" complementarian all the time, as though it's some wimpy, pitiful twisting of complementarianism. Or I wish we could reclaim the old term, resting in the beauty of the ways that the male and female genders complement one another, contrasting, highlighting, enhancing one another as we serve and lead together. But that is another post for another time.

Friends outside of the denomination, I apologize that this post may feel irrelevant or even frustrating. Thanks for bearing with me. Thanks for reading, anyway. I value your voices and regret any hurt I cause. But this is part of my journey, and this is important to me. So I can't help but write about it.


Dear Brothers in our Denomination,

Yesterday's sermon at church was beautiful.

I've recently had "remember your identity in Christ" preached at me by two men (with coincidentally the same name), and one could not be more different from the other. One strong, gracious, and Biblical. The other... not so much. I'm trying to hold to that truth I was reminded of yesterday--that my identity comes in Christ, not in how the world labels me (or even how I label myself), but it's hard. In part, because I sin. Because I play "I'm God's gift to the earth/Wait, I'm a worthless worm" mental games in between being reminded of the Gospel. Hooray sanctification.

It's also hard because the truth--that my identity is in Christ--isn't mutually exclusive with the pain of those other labels and the way I identify myself and others. We're in the "here and not yet" church age, and there are still things being worked out, still ways in which God is working out his truth in our hearts. Why is it important that I'm a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural woman serving my family, church, and graduate students? It matters precisely because of that truth--that I was created in the image of God, and he loves and delights in who he has made me to be. My gender, culture, and other identifiers aren't irrelevant because my identity is in Christ, they are celebrated in the wide diversity of the church. God hasn't saved a bunch of bland, indistinguishable people. He's saved a beautiful variety of people, in all colors, shapes, sizes, and personalities. He's saved men and women, and he values their differences.

And now we come to it.

After much initial drama and debate, our denomination has approved a Study Committee on Women in Ministry. This is a good thing. But it's also a polarizing thing. Already our little corner of social media has been ablaze with people who are both excited and distrustful. Already people are questioning the selection of the committee, the threat of it, the necessity of it, the timing of it. These voices are mostly white men. I don't hate white men. I'm really quite smitten with the one I'm married to. I respect and admire the ones who are our associate pastors and those who make up part of our elders. I gratefully sit under the tutelage of several white men in seminary.

The reaction on social media does seem to prove the necessity for the committee, and for it to include women. As one new friend on Facebook said, "If you want to know how certain things appear and feel to women members of the church, you kind of have to ask them." Thank you, sir.

And what I think many people are forgetting in all the hullabaloo is that behind it all are women. Women who have invested their lives in our denomination. Women who are more than stereotypes. Women who have submitted their lives to Christ, and are just trying to follow him faithfully.

But what I see in much of these discussions is the Three Female Ghosts that Haunt the Church. I'm haunted by these ghosts, brothers, and so are you. Please, I ask you--in all humility--see the women around you, hear our stories. Don't let whispers of ghosts and stereotypes be the only voices you hear.

Perhaps you see me as The Usurper--one of the women described in Jen Wilkins' above article as being perceived as "authority thieves." I'm not trying to usurp authority. I'm trying to serve from under proper authority--my elders, my husband, my God. Authority is a God-given, beautiful thing, and we can all thrive under it. I believe this.

Perhaps you're threatened by my exegesis. I've done some of the studies (in the Greek, yes) and I am a complementarian. But Biblical complementarianism does not (and should not!) equal chauvinism. I'm not trying to change your stance on Biblical truths, I'm trying to show you other Biblical views of your cultural norms.

Maybe you worry that I'm The Temptress--you think that "being above reproach [equals seeing women...] as sexual predators." Or you want to treat me like The Child because you think I'm "emotionally or intellectually weaker than men."

I wish you'd see me, and then treat me accordingly, as a sister.

I wish you'd see the women in your church. In your home. In your seminary. See the girls in your nursery, in your school, in your neighborhood. See the widows in your SS class, in your grocery store, in your city.

I wish you'd stop trafficking in stereotypes of angry women, who are demanding all sorts of rights. I wish you'd stop letting these Ghosts chair your committees and preach your sermons and type on your Facebook pages. I wish you'd really see, and listen to, the individual women around you who are indeed angry, but also weeping, and serving, and loving, and leading, and being humbled and renewed by the spirit.

I want to be sensitive to those men who truly feel threatened by what they see as the "scourge of liberalism" sneaking into our denomination. Its true--you are within your rights to be worried, to speak out, to voice concerns. But since when has Christianity been ultimately about our rights? Isn't it about what I learned in my Christology class about κενωσις? About following Christ's example as he laid down his rights, not to ignore the truth, but to pursue it? About seeing who else feels threatened, or marginalized, or hurt, and trying to understand their perspective, to support them, to be willing to listen to their stories?

Brothers, can you take a second to imagine what it feels like to be a token voice in a focus group for our new denominational logo, but be unable to vote on it? I'm not even saying that should or shouldn't change. I'm saying can you imagine the frustration or the feeling of being lesser?

Brothers, can you imagine what it was like to sit--for five hours--and listen to a discussion about your gender, without hearing from a single person of your gender (which is about 50% of the population)? Again, I'm not discussing whether we need change or not. I'm saying, just please try to imagine the feeling of helplessness and invisibility. The feeling that you are required--and always will be--to sit behind the curtain in what is essentially the Court of the Women and the Gentiles. It's alienating to say the least.

Brothers, can you picture a scene where people younger, less-trained, and in no actual authority over you consistently call you dismissive names as though you're a child? Can you picture the pain of being ignored merely because of your gender? Can you picture, and really try to sit with the image for a moment, the grief when other human beings--siblings in the gospel--look at you with suspicion and fear the minute you walk in the door, going where an actual authority figure has asked you to go?

Dear brothers, we are your sisters, which means we need and deserve your kindness in daily life, your protection from those who seek to harm us, your guidance as we serve in our homes and churches, your empowerment as we lead in appropriate ways.

We are also your co-heirs in Christ, which means we do not need your saving of our souls, your justifying of our existence, your condemnation as though only Eve ate the fruit, your platitudes in our grief, or your parenting as though we are your children (unless you're literally our dads--and then, it's still pretty specific in Ephesians how you're supposed to do that graciously). We are sinners saved by grace, just like you.

Some of you get it, or are at least listening. In my To My Brothers in Seminary Post, I didn't name names. I guess the same truths hold here. But you know who you are. Thank you for listening. For using your privilege to advocate for the voiceless. Thank you for being willing to admit mistakes and to fight back the Ghosts. Thank you for being strong, gracious, caring, stereotype-defying brothers.

Gratefully,
A Fellow Sibling


Dear Sisters in our Denomination,

I'm writing to say a few things. First, I lament with you. Even if the pain were not also my own, I would weep with you. And, I recognize that not all of our grief comes from the same places. Intersectionality is also an issue--for those of you who are also of certain ethnicities, socio-economic and educational statuses, etc., it can be hard to sort out why exactly you are being treated as lesser. In addition to other areas, for the areas in which you have felt grief for being shamed and not valued because you are a woman, I am sorry.

But a discussion on Facebook brought something to my attention. Some of you may not be feeling this pain, or may not have recognized it as being tied to your gender. Some of you may be already empowered to be faithful wives, mothers, and nursery workers. This is wonderful. But in commending the committee members to us, one of my professors said that "if we can't trust [the committee] on this issue, then we have far more problems than we know." I agree that they are trustworthy, gracious people. I (obviously) agree with the need for a committee. But I question not their trust but their representation. The committee members are heavily skewed to the majority. The majority of our denomination is of a certain age, stage, and educational/social background. But not all of us women who call it home are of that demographic.

There's a Fourth Ghost that haunts us, sisters: The Rebel. She who others think really would be happiest, if she only would submit to all the cultural (not Biblical) expectations for her. If she'd just stop fussing and accept things, she could focus and be at peace. She haunts us women perhaps most of all. We are not all stay-at-home moms. We are not all dainty, small, and graceful. We are not all called to be pastor's wives, or to host tea parties, or to homeschool. Not all of us are married, or have kids, or like crafting. And our callings and families are as beautiful and valuable as are the majority. But The Rebel doesn't want us valuing each other in our differences. She wants us to shame, blame, and accuse each other--on both sides--until we cannot see past the rift we have created. She wants us to be enemies, not siblings.

Sisters, will our voices be heard? Will those of us who are working outside the home be valued and heard? Will those of us who are single, or older or younger, be considered as the committee looks at what the Bible has to say? Or will those among us who are the Other be further marginalized--not because we actually disagree with the findings, but because no one thought to apply those findings to a broad spectrum of women within our denomination?

I hope they will. I do not doubt this committee will undertake its work with all seriousness and dependence on the Holy Spirit. I just hope that a committee on "Women in Ministry" will not limit itself to women ministering within current (read: culturally acceptable) norms. I pray that we will truly listen to the Bible and not let our denominational cultural norms dictate the findings. I know I'm in one accord with the committee when I say:

I want to hear Jesus speak.

And I know, sisters, that you do, as well.

Gratefully,
A Fellow Sister

Friday, April 29, 2016

Free Shipping Fridays: My Main Self Descriptors

Dear Readers,

While on the one hand, I think descriptors about race, gender, vocation, etc. can be stereotyping and limiting, on the other hand, I appreciate identifying myself with certain characteristics. And I think the problem with telling our stories via descriptors is not when we start there, but when we end there. I want the fact that I'm a multi-ethnic Christian woman in graduate school (etc. etc.) to start conversations, not end them.

So in your virtual mailbox today is a Census Bureau pamphlet, expanded. In this particular mailing, "check all that apply" is standard, and filling in little multiple-choice bubbles is just the beginning. I'd love to hear--do you identify with any of this? What descriptors do you claim? We are more than the sum of our parts--more than just data points--yet, those survey questions matter.


What is your ethnic identity? (check all that apply)
http://reformedmargins.com/but-you-were-raised-white/


What is your religious affiliation? (check all that apply)
http://www.russellmoore.com/2015/10/27/why-i-am-a-christian-2/
http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/october/exploring-evangelicalism-presbyterian-church-in-america.html


What is your gender identity? (check all that apply)
http://www.thegoodbookblog.com/2016/mar/17/neither-complementarian-nor-egalitarian-an-intervi/
http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2016/march/gender-conversation-we-arent-having.html


What is your current career/educational status? (check all that apply)
http://blog.emergingscholars.org/2016/04/dear-no-longer-new-graduate-student/
http://thewell.intervarsity.org/in-focus/no-happy-harmony


What is your political affiliation? (check all that apply)
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ellenpainterdollar/2012/10/why-i-am-a-christian-democrat/


What is your marital status? Do you have children in the home? (check all that apply)
http://www.scarymommy.com/teach-son-about-marriage/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/12/30/i-guess-im-raising-a-tomboy/


What is your favorite color? (check all that apply)
http://www.dreamhomedecorating.com/psychological-effects-color-blue.html





Monday, April 18, 2016

To an Absent Friend


Dear Little Critter,

I’ve dreaded this moment, and I’ve known it had to come eventually. It’s a broken, fallen world, and loving something means risking the pain that comes when we eventually have to say goodbye.

So death and sorrow has entered our little world, and I’m angry. Angry that my daughter has seen the murky, bloated face of death, and has had to face the ugliness of it. Angry that such a little thing as you—a pet fish—in your passing, now embodies all that is wrong in the world.

A little more of the veil of childhood has been lifted from her eyes, and she sees a little more clearly now. This is but another step in learning about the brutality of the world, and I’m angry. Angry that eventually, our girls will have to know about much more than the simple death of a fish. Angry that they will need to know—in the appropriate time, of course—about war, and famine, and rape, and genocide and the myriad of horrifying things that we humans are capable of doing to each other.

I'm angry that even though I truly believe that Christ has won, we are still in the "here and not yet" of it all. That we feel, as I heard it said once, the "death throes" of satan as he thrashes around trying to take down with him whomever he can. I'm angry that we still bleed, and die, and sin, and feel grief. 

We just celebrated the resurrection on Easter, which of course requires first mourning the crucifixion. We’ve talked about the pain, betrayal, and abandonment that Jesus endured to atone for our sins. Perhaps you overheard some of our conversations last week, little fish. But as I watched my little girl take in the grotesque shape of the corpse of her best aquatic friend, suddenly I knew that the physical horror of Christ's crucifixion made a little more sense to her. It was no longer so abstract. And that makes me angry. 

I know John Owen has written clearly of the "Death of Death in the Death of Christ," and that for us to grow and be transformed, we must first die like the seed (1 Cor 15). I know that my grief over the grief of my child is sanctifying and reminds me that this is not my home. I know all this, but I'm still angry. 

And maybe, this isn't so much about you, little fish. Maybe it's about the four year anniversary of dad's death and getting older myself and realizing that my babies are, as Cindy Morgan sings, "flesh and blood, and bone and marrow;" here but for a breath, then gone (Psa 90). And that I myself am but dust and that as "my fathers before me," so shall I follow into the long sleep of death someday. Leaving my children to grieve. Leaving them to try to keep the memory alive through pictures and videos and telling stories. 

I know that victory is already won, and that a day is coming of joy and reunion and completeness, because of the sacrifice of Christ. I don't know how exactly that works for you, Swirly fish, as you had no soul to be saved. But you did have a little personality, and were much loved, and part of this created order that God is in the process of redeeming. 

Maybe I'm not so much angry as I am sad. Sad that death is in the world, sad that the girls have to learn that painful lesson, and sad that I can't protect them from all that. But even as I'm sad that you're gone, it does help me to remember how fleeting life is, and how important love is. I know, it sounds like a Hallmark card. It's really saccharine, you say? I don't feel embarrassed in front of a fish. Everyone knows fish aren't very sentimental, anyway. 

Rest well, little friend. 
With love,
A fellow creature.